In most parts of the world the act of giving is a way to let others know that you care about them. However altruistic giving can be, the act itself has different levels of effort and surely edible presents are high in the rank of the most appreciated gifts.
Asturias is no different. It is very common to share foods among friends, especially fresh produce if you grow it (fruit & veg) and home treats made from it (quince jelly, jams, cider, cordials…).
As a child my Christmas cravings were never fulfilled until the parcel with dozens of delicious cookies baked by my dear auntie, who lived in the other corner of the country, arrived.
That day was one of the most special days of the festive season. My mum and I would head to the post office to collect the parcel with some goodies and most importantly, those cookies. They would feature different classic shapes, like hearts and stars. They would keep its delicate almond aroma even days after they had been baked. My dad, who is a sweet-dismisser, would be the person in charge of the cookies (aka making sure the cookies lasted until NYE). He loves those cookies.
Little did I know that I would get to understand every layer of meaning packed in that box full of cookies. When you live abroad one of the things that makes you feel at home is the smell and taste of family recipes. Likely because the smell, texture and flavour are the closest you can get to your roots, to feel at home away from home.
This year I recreated a similar Christmasy almond treat to the one my auntie used to send us, but in the form of linzer cookies, adding richness to it via a chocolate and hazelnuts' homemade spread. Linzer cookies make an ideal edible gift for the festive season upon us.
Almond & hazelnut-chocolate linzer cookies
(Inspired by my auntie Sioni's recipe and Smitten Kitchen's)
Yield: around 25 sandwich cookies (50 individual cookies)
150gr ground almonds
250gr all-purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
240gr unsalted butter, soft
115gr soft brown sugar or coconut sugar
70gr granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract (optional)
200gr hazelnut chocolate spread
Powdered sugar for dusting
In a medium bowl, mix the ground almonds, flour and baking powder. In a large bowl, beat together both sugars and the butter until it becomes soft and creamy and the sugar has dissolved. Then stir in the egg yolks and vanilla and beat together until incorporated. Whisk in the dry ingredients and mix well until both mixtures are well incorporated.
Divide the dough in two more or less equal portions and wrap each in cling film, trying to make a flat shape, more like a frisbee than a ball. This is so that it is easier to roll out later. Let them chill in the fridge for at least one hour, ideally two.
Before you start, line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside. Take just one of the two portions of dough out of the fridge and roll it out until 1/4inch (0.6cm) thick approximately. Cutting out the cookies can become a real challenge if the dough becomes too soft. If this happens refrigerate/freeze the dough until it becomes firm enough again.
Using a medium size cookie cutter of your choice cut out the cookies and transfer them to the baking sheet, then the fridge. Once you have cut out all the cookies, take half of them and using a smaller matching-shape cookie cutter; cut openings (around 1 inch/2cm) in the center. These will later become the lids.
Heat oven to 180C and when ready, bake the first batch. Since everyone has his own pace in the kitchen it is better to avoid wasting energy heating the oven too early. Also, chilling the cookies in the fridge while waiting for the oven helps the dough holding its shape better, getting clean, sharp edges.
Bake until cookies are golden brown, about 7-10 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for at least 5 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack. Repeat the process with the remaining dough.
To powder the lids, put together the cookies you previously removed the centres of, the ones with a ring shape. If you want to avoid a sugar mess, just place them on a cooling rack with a tray or parchment paper underneath and then sprinkle the powdered sugar using a sieve.
Take a spread of your choice (jams, chocolate-nut spreads…), -in this case I have used homemade hazelnut chocolate spread- and add a teaspoon to the centre of each cookie base, then spread it until the entire surface is covered. Set rings over the spread to form the sandwiches.
Cookies keep well in an airtight container for several days.